Matrimony (Review)

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Matrimony
Joshua Henkin, 2007
291 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
October 2008

My friend Eddie once said (we were on the cusp of middle age) that we run from our roots while young, only to run back to them as we mature. I think that's a lot of what this very fine book explores.

The story's main characters meet in college—all three determined to put family influences behind them, create their own identities, and set their own life paths.

Over the next 15 years, they marry, pursue their careers and lives together with varying success, and eventually come to terms with their beginnings and with one another.

Henkin writes wonderful dialogue: it's crisp and funny, especially in the beginning. It's also glib, which I came to see as the degree of his characters' self-absorbtion—the way in which they refuse to share their deep store of emotions. Thus, they neither completely understand nor commit to each other—until the book's end.

Much of the book concerns Julian Wainwright's struggle to finish his first novel. He can't seem to follow his mentor's dictum —"you should write what you know about what you don't know ... or what you don't know about what you know." (Okay, read that twice.) His writing block mirrors his living block: Julian can proceed in neither because he has yet to learn what he knows or doesn't know.

Don't look for heavy plot or muscular prose. This book, as Julian says of his own writing, is quiet with a regard for character—which makes Matrimony a work to relish. Certainly, book clubs will find a rich vein for discussion—family, parents, happiness, loyalty, forgiveness, and the struggle for self-knowledge.

See our Reading Group Guide for Matrimony.

Also, read my 4 LitBlog posts on Josh Henkin's superb essay on book clubs—excellent points for discussion by themselves:

  1. Book Clubs—smarter than critics?
  2. So ... where are the guys?
  3. I Laughed! I Cried! — how do we talk about books?
  4. Echo Chambers—are we all reading the same books?

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